By Paolo Valpolini
Following the official inauguration of EDGE, the new United Arab Emirates Defence and Technology cluster, its CEO, Faisal Al Bannai, met the international press allowing gathering more information on what is becoming the defence pole of the UAE.
Within the newly born Edge group we find 23 companies and two centres of excellence, and all of them see at least the participation of the UAE Government. “Most of the companies are 100% owned by the Government, while some are joint ventures, either with local partners or with international ones,” Faisal Al Bannai, the CEO and Managing Director of the new Emirates defence group explains, adding that they are all related to defence or security. Building a group with a critical mass, capable to create synergies among the companies and to provide them with a strategic plan, rather than with shorter term plans as it was the case until now, while speeding up the development process adapting the start-up mentality to the big industry, this is the aim of EDGE. It does not come as a surprise that Mr. Al Bannai himself has a start-up background and that his CV includes experiences in leveraging emerging technologies, and in expanding opportunities on the domestic and export markets. The United Arab Emirates are looking forward, knowing well that their oil reserves will soon or late finish, thus investments are aimed at increasing the technology knowledge, looking to replace oil with knowledge in the future as export item. If this is true in general terms, the creation of EDGE also aims at giving the Emirates full independence on critical defence solutions.
“EDGE is the result of putting together the assets of the Emirates Defense Industries Company (EDIC), Tawazun, and Emirates Advanced Services,” Al Bannai says. The UAE defence enabler, Tawazun, will maintain its role. “We are invested in managing the uncertainty that technology brings by adapting our focus and capabilities towards a sustainable defence and security industry. EDGE will help us to transform our domestic capabilities, while growing our engagements on defence and security export,” Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hsani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council said. On the other hand EDIC will disappear, as all its companies will now fall under EDGE. “Bringing all the companies under the same roof allows increasing the critical mass, these companies being then grouped in five different clusters increasing synergies, accelerating the capability building, and avoiding duplications,” EDGE CEO continues.
Asked about the problems given by slow acquisition processes, Al Bannai said that “globally the low procurement speed is an issue, and countries must dramatically accelerate the process, however industry must also speed up its processes. Today we are developing many technologies from scratch, however we must learn to look at products commercially available, developing them for military uses without reinventing them,” he added.
In its current form EDGE has a turnover of over 5 billion US$, however Mr. Al Bannai states “we look at a dramatic increase.” How this will happen? First of all with the acceleration of capabilities building, the EDGE CEO explains, then increasing the products base, according to customers requirements, as for further acquisition of companies to be added to the current ones, he says that the existing ones have just started to integrate, and that in the future the type of partner will dictate the type of relationship.
“EDGE will definitely look for a role when the UAE will make major acquisitions from foreign providers, the group involvement ranging from MRO perspectives to the manufacturing of components. It will depend on the type and size of the deal, but we definitely want to be part of that ecosystem,” Al Bannai says.
Asked about the Cyber Defence and the Electronic Warfare clusters, the company CEO said that cyber is something unavoidable, EDGE aiming at having a key role in defending the cloud, the hardware as well as communications. As for EW, prioritisation will be mostly dictated by customer’s critical needs, Al Bannai seeing a consistent potential market worldwide. “These are relatively new domains, which are still evolving, and I consider that there is a potential market worldwide, with a lot of room for ambitious companies.”
EDGE will definitely not limit its objectives to the domestic and regional market, but aims at extending its reach worldwide, something that copes well with the UAE future strategic planning.
The EDGE companies
Looking closely to the five specialist clusters, the one with the highest number of employees and companies is definitely that dealing with Platforms and Systems, which is made of eight subsidiaries and one centre of excellence, for a total manpower of over 8,000 people. The cluster is capable of providing ships, armoured and non-armoured vehicles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, as well as autonomous systems. Among the companies we find Al Jasoor, the joint venture with Otokar Land Systems UAE, the latter fully owned by Otokar of Turkey, producing the Rabdan 8×8, Nimr, which portfolio of light and medium armoured vehicles is growing at each edition of IDEX and which is now considered the leading light and medium wheeled military vehicle manufacturer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Four companies are maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) specialists, one in the land domain, Al Taif Technical Services, two in the air domain, the Advanced Military Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Center (AMMROC), a JV with Lockheed Martin, and Global Aerospace Logistics (GAL), and one in the naval domain, Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB). Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments (ADASI) is specialised in the field of autonomous systems while the Emirates Advanced Research and Technology Holding (EARTH) offers R&D, engineering and project management services. All together these companies are able to act full spectrum, from design, to manufacturing, system integration, MRO, etc.
Second in terms of people, over 1,700, but with the same number of subsidiaries, eight, comes the Mission Support cluster. Their names are less known to the public, but their role is fundamental. EPI (previously EDIC Precision Industries) is active in the engineering and machining not only for the defence and aerospace sector but also for that dealing with oil and gas, Horizon is the largest independent helicopter flight training academy in the Middle East, Al Hosn Armored Systems is specialised in body armour, Jaheziya is active in the fire fighting training sector for military, first responders and commercial organisations, ETS (previously EDIC Technical Services) is a system integrator in marine technology and some time ago absorbed Thales C4 Advanced Solutions, Remaya is a specialist in shooting ranges, Emirate Response Services (ERS) works in the fire and rescue sector, while Knowledge Point provides organisational and mission assessment.
The Missiles and Weapons cluster comes third, with over 1,400 people, five subsidiaries and one centre of excellence. The missile company is Halcon, active also in automation and robotics, Caracal being the well known manufacturer of small arms, while Al Tariq is a leader in aerial weaponry and absorbed Barij Dynamics. Small arms, infantry, artillery and aircraft munitions are the field of activity of Lahab that has also absorbed Barij Munitions, while Advanced Pyrotechnics (APT) is producing advanced pyrotechnics and low velocity ammunition. Here too activities range from R&D to the designing and manufacturing of munitions, directed energy weapons being also considered.
Small in terms of number of companies and manpower, respectively two and over 200, the Electronic Warfare and Intelligence cluster provides however key systems to the UAE forces and not only. The two key companies are Sign4L, specialised in advanced electromagnetic and radio-frequency technologies, secure communications and other activities related to communications, and Beacon Red, active in the intelligence field, from language services to training platforms.
Not many information are yet available on the Cyber Defence cluster: for the time being it is working through trusted partners and will further develop capabilities, to be announced in due course.